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Spotlight: Billy Merrell

Billy Merrell (c) 2013 by David Levithan

Zoey Carter shares her interest in Festival Author Billy Merrell

by Zoey Carter, Elan Art Editor

Elan is an international student literary magazine. In this feature, students who are members of the staff will share their experiences with the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival.

I was drawn to Billy Merrell when I heard that he would be holding a seminar on LGBT literature in the upcoming Writers’ Fest. Many Festival Authors are part of the LGBT community, including Richard Blanco and Franny Choi, but the idea of a Douglas Anderson graduate succeeding in the professional literary world sent me looking for his poetry.

Part of me wanted to simply read it, analyze it like any young writer might. The other part of me wanted to find something that was close to my own writing, something that would tell me “yes, you are meant to be a poet. Yes, you can write about identity without being cliché.”

What I found was even more than that.

Merrell’s novel-in-verse, Talking in the Dark, was released in 2003, when Merrell was only twenty-one. It is a memoir of growing up, coming out as gay, and exploring love. But more than that, it captures what it means to be young. The poems are narrative, each one capturing small snapshots of Merrell’s experiences, some so private they feel wrong to read. In his poem “Before” he recounts his first experiences of being intimate with another boy. The realization at the end of the poem that the experience not only helped the speaker express himself, but also broke his innocence, left me with a lump in my throat. Then there were the more universal poems like “Canon” with their images of writing life, for example the poets Auden, Doty, and Whitman whispering to the speaker: “Here is the world. Here. It’s yours and it’s alright,” capturing the feeling of being comforted by something that isn’t supposed to comfort you.

Merrell’s poetry makes you think, as all good poetry should. His poems were well-crafted, subtle in their choices, in the specific memories that brought on so many emotions and spoke to so many larger topics that need to be addressed in our society today. They resonated with me on a personal level, as it they have for many young writers. His poetry is a gospel almost of what it means to be gay, young, and thirsty for literature.

Billy Merrell taught me that it’s okay to write about sexuality. That it’s okay to write about family, and those small experiences that you think no one else in the world could possibly have, because in the end, taking risks and being intimate speaks to more people than generalization avoidance ever could.

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